This Does Compute: Local Couple’s Foundation Logs On to Help Sick Kids Tap Hope


Imagine you have a rotten case of flu, and you haven't had the strength to go to work. You can't stand up, you can't think straight and you're bored, bored, bored.

What do you do? Open a laptop and see what's going on outside your bedroom, or play Scrabble with Sam in St. Louis.

But suppose that you're housebound or bed-ridden for weeks or months. Or that you're hospitalized. Or, worse, that you're a child in this situation. What are your options?

Not many, it would seem. Until recently.

Now, in 22 hospitals around the globe, pediatric patients needing long-term care have computers at their fingertips, thanks to the Bringing the Outside World Inside Foundation — and to Lee and Nancy Rosenbluth, who started this Philly-based organization in 1996, donating computers first to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Lee Rosenbluth, the president/CEO of Rosenbluth Vacations, explains how this idea began. "In the 1990s," he says, "I was involved with electronic travel. I saw the power of electronic messaging.

"When I was on the road, I could easily communicate with my family and friends. I had three healthy children, fortunately. But what if they weren't healthy? I thought that being in a hospital must be incredibly isolating."

Rosenbluth took his idea to administrators and physicians at CHOP. He offered to donate personal computers to the hospital to allow youngsters to communicate with the outside world.

"Kids could use them to get away from thinking only of their illnesses," he says. "At the same time, I wanted not to create a burden for administrators. They were very excited, and some doctors said they had software that could show children what their surgery would be like."

So they hit tab and moved on. Rosenbluth met with CHOP's Internet-technology department, which requested the brand they could most easily support and promised to handle the installation.

While the original gift included five desktops in central areas, these days, laptops often prove more efficient. And CHOP has seven BOWI computers.

"When I went to visit," says Rosenbluth, "I saw children wheeling their I.V. poles down the hall to go to the computers. Once I saw a 12-year-old girl who was working at a computer with a large rollerball instead of a mouse.

"She learned to use it. Three weeks later she died. I got a letter from her parents saying how much pleasure the computer had given the child. It's a wonderful opportunity to be able to help these kids."

After CHOP, Bringing the Outside World Inside branched out. Other long-term-care pediatric facilities receive computers, plus age-appropriate educational and entertaining software, Internet connections and video-conferencing capability.

Most hospitals receive between seven and 10 computers.

The foundation serves 18 U.S.-based medical centers, and many similar programs now exist elsewhere, too. Outside the United States, BOWI computers amuse children in Toronto, Dublin, London and at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

"When we called, several hospitals didn't believe it was a pure donation," Lee Rosenbluth says. "They figured there were strings attached. We called one hospital, and no one called back.

"Once we reach an agreement with a hospital, we agree on a budget. Then we send them a check so they can order the computers" they need.

While the computers continue to provide real-world experiences for children, sometimes parents benefit, too, especially if they stay overnight — or for weeks — with their children.

Rosenbluth knows some families create websites to post progress reports. Others Skype.

Now that most hospitals have Internet and even Wi-Fi connectivity in central areas and even in patients' rooms, computers have become almost routine.

After the earthquake in Haiti, one boy spent extended time in an American hospital. He communicated with his parents through a BOWI computer. That connection reportedly helped his healing, too.

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